McAuley takes positives from Russia loss

McAuley said Northern Ireland's aim was to frustrate Russia. Photo: PA

Gareth McAuley was pleased with the way his side went about their work against Russia last night, despite beginning their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 defeat.

Russia, ranked 13th in the FIFA standings to Northern Ireland's 129th, were always expected to win but never ran riot as the visitors were breached just once in each half.

McAuley was one of the visiting side's standout performers in Moscow, putting in a tireless display at the back to help keep his side within sight of an unlikely draw for much of the match.

The West Brom defender is used to trying to upset the odds against some of the Barclays Premier League's top sides and believes Michael O'Neill's team did a decent job of getting under Russia's skin.

"We did what we wanted to do last night and that was frustrate," he said.

"We had a lot of our senior players back for this match and there are lots of caps at this level from throughout the team.

"The pressure was on us to be better with the ball this time but we knew they were a top side and would have a lot of the ball.

"But we annoyed them and we could have had a goal ourselves."

The most likely source of a Northern Ireland goal appeared to be from the head of McAuley, who twice went close from Chris Brunt assists.

The pair are team-mates at club level and combined successfully when McAuley headed in Albion's second in the recent win over Everton.

"Brunty and I have talked about doing what we did at the club - his corner and my header," said McAuley.

"We had talked about how small a side they generally are and we just agreed in situations like that we would go for it."

O'Neill is unusually well served in central defence, where he has McAuley, Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes and Craig Cathcart all vying for selection.

He paired McAuley and Evans in the middle against Russia, with Hughes shifted to right-back and Cathcart asked to fill in on the left.

The latter worked hard but did not look entirely comfortable in the position and gave away the debatable penalty that handed Russia a second goal in the 78th minute.

Despite that, the Blackpool defender believes there is a good understanding between the quartet and is looking forward to another chance against Luxembourg on Tuesday.

"As a back four we defended really well together, kept our shape and contributed to a very good team performance," said Cathcart.

"I really thought we could have nicked a goal at the end but it just didn't work out for us.

"Going into these two games the Luxembourg game was obviously the one that we really felt we needed to win.

"We'll go back to Belfast with a little bit more confidence now and we'll hope to put on a really good show against Luxembourg."